As a continuation from last week’s theme, it’s possible that value wines have never been more in demand.
I’ve known people who have romanticized about drinking cheap red wine while sitting on the fire escape, at the beach or on the couch — but there is little romance in drinking swill. This certainly is not a way to impress a date and, unless you are a masochist, not really a way you should treat yourself, either.
Luckily, if you subscribe to this ideal, there is hope, as inexpensive red wines are not too hard to find, especially if your budget allows for wines under $15. Here are four:
Man Vintners Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 (Coastal Region, South Africa): Here’s the deal: Three friends — all men — got together, a light bulb went off and they embarked on the path of making good, inexpensive wine. They were perhaps not the first to have this brilliant idea but they have executed their vision very well. The wine is medium-bodied with jolly blackberry, black cherry fruit, red licorice and a little vanilla; you would be hard-pressed to find a better cabernet for the money. Suggested retail: $12.99
Dingac Vinarja Peljesac, 2007 (Potomje, Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia): This is made from plavac mali, a cousin of zinfandel. Both grapes are descendants of crljenak kaštelanski, which is pretty scarce, though it can be found on the Dalmatian Coast. (For the record, zinfandel is the member of the family that left the home country.) Dingac — a southern-facing slope that dives into the Adriatic Sea — grows one of Croatia’s most-coveted wines. Its steep, rocky soil makes it impossible to traverse with anything but feet — be it your own or a donkey’s. Unusual but really good with cardamom, rose petals and strawberry jam, the wine has similarities to zinfandel, though it also has its own distinct earthy quality. Suggested retail: $12.99
Bastide Saint Dominique Côtes du Rhône, 2009 (Rhône Valley, France): Made from vineyards just a stone’s throw from Châteauneuf-du-Pape (and there are a lot of stones in the soil here, so look out), this is a terrific Côtes du Rhône that rivals wines from Vacqueras and Gigondas in quality. Moderately tannic and packed with blueberries, raspberries, black pepper and terroir, it is many notches above your average Côtes du Rhône. Suggested retail: $14.99
Le Fraghe Bardolino, 2010 (Veneto, Italy): Bardolino is a light, fruity wine that is made from the same grapes used for Amarone and Valpolicella: corvina, rondinella and molinara. Many producers also make the two other more prestigious wines mentioned, but not Le Fraghe. Since 1984, Matilde Poggi has concentrated on making accessible wines using indigenous grapes that people can drink as everyday wines. A superb example of Bardolino with tons of briary cherry, raspberry juice, pepper and dried flowers all tied together with a good knot of tannin and acid, this wine provides plenty of flavor per penny. Suggested retail: $14.99
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.